Career Guidance, Employability and Emiratisation


One of the greatest challenges for all modern economies is to ensure that as many people as possible in their society are economically active and are contributing to the economic and social development of their society.

This is also true for organisations – their most important resource is people.

And it is important for people too. As Abraham Maslow suggested, personal motivation is often driven by factors such as a sense of belonging, a sense of achievement and a sense of self actualisation – personal growth

Underpinning that challenge is a need for Governments to assess need and to steer and guide key elements – employers, educators at all levels,  qualification providers, etc – to respond to the challenge.

For employers the challenge is similar: 

  • What kind of skills, knowledge and behaviours will we need to be able to run a great organisation and meet the needs of our clients
  • To what extent are these in place – what must we do to attend to any gaps – Can we recruit? Can we develop the people we already employ? 
  • What will this mean for people in our organisation – especially those who aspire to progress with their careers.

In organisations this is often captured in talent management programs. 

In the 21st century there are particular implications for each individual too. The most important change for any employee is that what we call jobs are changing rapidly and continuously. For those who are determined to set up an enterprise the challenge is similar. Markets change fast too.

Traditionally career guidance would operate by working with individuals to look at their interests, preferences, skills and knowledge and from that to identify a preferred career. This would be followed by guidance to help individuals understand where those jobs could be found, what were various routes to those jobs, prospects and how the individual might get that job. That will include writing CVs, preparing for interviews and assessment centres, gathering relevant experience, etc.

The problem here is that someone who is good at Mathematics and Business Studies might be guided towards a career in say accountancy. 

However there may not be enough suitable accountancy opportunities out there. And, more significantly these days, it may be that in a few years’ time lots of accountancy jobs may simply disappear as technology advances.

Already in the USA it is estimated that 30% of jobs that exist now didn’t exist 10 years ago. Furthermore 30% of jobs that exist now will not exist in 10 years’ time.  Most of this change is driven by technology – not just Information Technology but across all sciences and disciplines.

This is crucially important in dynamic, technologically competent economies such as that in the UAE.

In my own role, 5 years ago I would present at 40 events and conferences every year which involve a lot of travel and take a lot of time. Now I present at around a dozen conferences a year but I present around 40 webinars each year. Some reach 2,500 people each time I present.

I don’t have to travel, I deliver webinars from my office. I reach far more people. No-one has to take time to travel to listen to me. They can do this on their phone, iPad or computer.

So the challenge for individuals and organisations is to consider and in some ways prepare for the widest range of options for jobs and careers and to prepare for changes to the career they have chosen.

It is estimated that, with application and some development, many people can do up to 70% of the jobs in an economy. It may of course be the case that they don’t want to do many of them. That is not the point. The point is that all of us have a much wider range of options available to us than we often allow for.

This kind of openness to opportunity, flexibility to respond as the world changes and the preparedness to both accept this and welcome this are very important to society and to employers. Ultimately it is valuable for all individuals too.

So … Is Career Guidance still important. It is! 

We still need to make good decisions about our careers and the jobs we want. We still need to understand what an employer and to apply ourselves to securing those jobs.

But there is more to success than this.

What is happening all over the world is that employers and societies are beginning to understand that employability is more than thinking about skills, knowledge, behaviour and preferences.

It embraces what most call attitude. With a good attitude, an individual can do many jobs and can consider and adopt many careers. This often enables them to take different career paths to their ultimate goal.

This takes Career Guidance to another level – it’s now not only about how to get my next job but it’s about how I can progress successfully in that job and in future jobs I may not yet have considered,

So what does Employability look like?

In 2013 AQR International carried out a study together with key partners from the Careers Guidance industry in the UK where they consulted with almost 500 employers, large and small to identify the qualities that they found to be essential in the very best employees. Although skills, knowledge and qualifications all had their place, the over-riding requirement was for something most called “Attitude”. Employers seemed to value this above all else.

This required further analysis to be able to understand this clearly. The outcome was that a good “Attitude” was, for almost everyone, the combination of a positive mindset and positive behaviours around three core areas. These are summarised below.

The study also reflects a growing understanding that developing people and organisations is largely an exercise in making people self aware of their personality (which describes their habitual response to events) and where possible to develop their personality. Personality, it can be argued, has three major components:

  1. How we act  – That is, our behaviour. What do we do when we need to do something
  2. How we feel – How we respond emotionality to events

Much of the work in people development until recently has focused on behaviour – and that is important. Behaviour is very visible and many people make decision about others based on that they see.

However there is third component which is at least as important as behaviour or feelings and which determines to a significant extent how we act and how we feel.:

  • How we think – Often called Mental Toughness or Mindset. This describes what we are thinking when faced with situations or responding to events.

The challenge here is that “how we think” is not visible. We can’t see what is happening on other people’s heads (and we often don’t understand what is happening in our own heads).

POSITIVE MINDSET – “How the most employable think”

  1. Control – a sense of self worth, “can do” and emotional control
  2. Commitment – goal setting and working to deliver them
  3. Challenge –being prepared to take risks
  4. Confidence – have self-belief and interpersonal confidence

Previous readers of HR Echo will recognise these as components of the MTQ48 Mental Toughness model (Issue 2, April 2015)

POSITIVE BEHAVIOURS – “how the most employable act”

These centred on three core themes.

Skills in Dealing with People (Who)

  1. Team-working & Self Reliance – being able to work in either setting
  2. Altruism – working for the good of others
  3. Emotional Intelligence – being aware of ones impact on others and of their impact on you – and responding accordingly
  4. Assertiveness – being able to deal effectively with others to achieve objectives

Skills in Dealing With Problems (How)

  1. Problem Solving – to recognise problems and know how to solve them
  2. Creativity – to be able to offer solutions or work with others to do this
  3. Organisation – to understand and accept processes and systems
  4. Continuous Improvement – to reflect, even when doing well, and seek to do better

Motivation and Drivers (Why)

  1. Conscientiousness – delivering on time and on target – particularly service to others
  2. Concern for Standards – ensuring delivery of high quality work
  3. Ambition – to be aspirational and want to grow
  4. Continuous Personal Development – investing in self to be better and not just wait for an employer to do this..

These three elements are now embodied into the CARRUS employability model which also has an accompanying measure to assess these qualities in individuals.

Conscientiousness is a good example of the interplay between behaviour and mindset. Conscientiousness describes for example someone who will work diligently to complete a task when they have promised to do so. It is very desirable.

What happens when someone is not as conscientious as one would like. Can you develop that? It is more than useful to understand why they don’t behave in the preferred way.

Is it because they don’t have a sense of “can do” (Control) or are frightened of goals and targets (Commitment)? It could be that the task is new to them and they are not comfortable doing something that stretches them (Challenge). It could be a lack of Confidence – even when thy have the ability to complete the task.

Understanding Mindset or Mental Toughness is important, perhaps essential, if we are to develop employable, flexible and productive people.

Interestingly in 2016, the World Economic Forum published its Future of Jobs Report it forecast that the top ten skills that employees of all types will need by 2020 will be:

  1. Complex Problem Solving
    1. Critical thinking
    1. Creativity
    1. People Management
    1. Co-ordinating with Others
    1. Emotional Intelligence
    1. Judgement and Decision Making
    1. Service Orientation
    1. Negotiation
    1. Cognitive Flexibility – the ability to think about two or more things at a time.

They too estimated that five years from now, over one-third of skills (35%) that are considered important in today’s workforce will have changed.

Although this looks at what a successful employee will need from the perspective of their skills, it is not difficult to see the connection between these specific skills and the mindset and behaviours identified in the AQR International study.

The study also highlights the importance of recognising the impact of technology. Robots will be capable of carrying out tasks that people carry out now – although perhaps not with the same level of creativity (yet!). Which is why creativity has risen in the agenda and is picked up in both studies featured in this article.

Moreover, science will bring us artificial intelligence, machine learning, new materials and biotechnology which will all impact on how we work and what we do.

What is equally interesting is that Emotional Intelligence is seen as increasingly important.

Together both studies provide a comprehensive picture of what a highly effective aspirational employee will look like in the very near future.

In the UAE there is a very important strategy called Emiratisation. This embraces the idea of Employability and in particular seeks to support Emiratis to consider roles in all areas of the economy.

Saqr Ghobash, Minister for Human Resources and Emiratisation announce recently. ”The Ministry has put in place measures to train citizens in various fields and equip them with skills, including vocational knowledge to encourage them join the private sector and also increase their competitiveness in the job market so they become first choice for employers. There are many challenges in the job markets but our children need to secure employment and that is why the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation has come forward to enhance their competitiveness and promote them in the labour market.”

The world of work is changing quickly whether it is being driven by new demands from the economy/society or from customers for new products and services. It is perhaps vital to ensure that people are developed to respond to the challenges and opportunities in a way which is:

  • Productive – achieving more with the resources available
  • Healthy – enabling wellbeing and good mental health when adjusting to the change
  • Positive – enjoying the change and achieving “happiness”
  • Aspirational – creating a mindset based on continuous improvement and personal growth 

Skills, knowledge and behaviour will always be important. Working in the future requires a more holistic approach embracing the so called “soft skills” of Mindset, Mental Toughness and Emotional Intelligence and weaving these into development activity. And this applies to preparing people for the world of work as well as supporting those who are already in the workplace.

The research and studies carried out by AQR International and The World Economic Forum have produced frameworks which are valuable for all those who are involved in leading, managing and developing people who are the life blood of the economy and the organisations within it.

For Emirati nationals to aspire to and achieve the goals quite properly promoted by the visionary leadership in the United Arab Emirates requires developing an employability mindset and adopting employability behaviours. This is what will carry them into jobs and will ensure that they can pursue successful careers when in employment.

Doug Strycharczyk is co-author with Charlotte Bosworth of OCR, of “Developing Employability and Enterprise” (Kogan Page 2016. He is CEO for AQR International which is leading major project in the UAE to train Career Counsellors. His colleague Maya Mattar is the project lead for the program.

By Doug Strycharczyk, CEO for AQR International and Maya Mattar, Senior Consultant, AQR International

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